Sunday, 19 March 2017

Podcast interview with People's Friend Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair

I started writing for The People's Friend at the end of 2012 and, although it wasn't the first magazine I sold to, it was the one I had the quickest success with. Since then, with my wonderful editor, Alan, by my side making my writing better, I've sold around 140 stories to them.

You can read the post I wrote at the beginning of my People's Friend  journey here.

When I wrote that post, I could never have imagined that four and a half years later, I would hear commissioning editor Shirley Blair say in an interview, 'We buy stories from regular writers... names that our readers will recognise such as Pamela Kavanagh, Wendy Clarke, Alison Carter and Lydia Jones.' 

To have readers recognise my name is an absolute dream come true.

BUT it's not just regular writers Shirley buys from. In her podcast interview on the People's Friend Website, she says they also like to introduce new writers to the readers and bring these new writers on. That's exactly what the magazine did for me four years ago and I'm really pleased they're giving new writers a chance. 

Shirley's podcast is a must for anyone wondering what goes on behind the scenes at the magazine and wanting an idea of what types of story the fiction team do and don't want.

The full podcast interview with Shirley can be found here.

On that note, I have a story in the next People's Friend Special so I'll be keeping a look out for that.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Those Mistakes Writers Make - Guest Post Alex Gazzola

Ever made a writing mistake... a rookie error? Of course you have. My blog guest today is someone who is pretty much an expert - not on making mistakes but on helping others avoid them. Please give a warm welcome to Alex Gazzola, from the well-known blog Mistakes Writers Make. His new book 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make is a must for anyone thinking of writing articles or non-fiction for magazines but a lot of the advice is just as relevant to fiction writers.

Over to you, Alex.

To err is divine … mostly!

When I first started writing about writing mistakes, seven years ago, some writers, not unreasonably, assumed I was doing so to be smug and boastful about my purported writerly perfections, and snide and finger-pointy about others’ writerly imperfections – but that was never the intention or motivation. I just wanted to help non-fiction writers who felt somehow stuck.

So here’s my take on mistakes:

1. Mistakes are good. We all make them, they mean we’re doing something, and when we become or are made aware of them, we can learn from them and correct them.

2. Mistakes of which we’re unaware, and which aren’t stopping us doing what we want to do (from running a blog or publishing an article, to selling a book proposal or making a living from words) aren’t really a problem.

3. Mistakes of which we’re unaware, and which are stopping us doing what we want to do (typically, getting our work sold to editors and noticed by readers) are a problem.

Nobody deliberately sets out to make mistakes in this business. They do what they think is right. But doing it wrong feels the same as doing it right. Unless a tutor, or an honest colleague, or some grumpy bald middle-aged bespectacled self-appointed mistakes guru tells you otherwise, your mistakes won’t feel as if they’re mistakes.

So that’s the idea behind the blog and the books: to help you see what you may be doing wrong and to guide you towards putting it right.

The most fundamental mistake to my mind is the notion that you can become a writer without any help from anyone. But writing is such a team sport – you need a support network of family and friends, people to help you research, the wisdom of editors – that you just can’t play the game alone. You’re going to need experts and other folk to interview if you write for magazines and papers, but pretending you don’t, and refusing to seek out these individuals because you’re intimidated by the thought, is a huge mistake that many beginners make.

When it comes to subject matter, a common issue is to think you can make a living out of writing whatever you want to write. But what editors want to publish and readers want to read may not correspond to that – and writers need to accept it. Sharing your opinion is another common error: there are exceptions, but generally readers want hard facts, not the views of someone they don’t know and don’t want to know. And there’s another mistake right there: assuming readers will care about you. They won’t, on the whole. They care about themselves, and are unlikely to even register your byline.

When it comes to markets, some aim too high – The Times, Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest. You’ll hear success stories, granted, but in general the lesser-known titles offer more fruitful hunting grounds. Niche magazines. You may think you can’t write for a  magazine dedicated to hair or horses or Hondas, but you can. You just need to research.

What else? Not reading enough – even refusing to read – is common. Being a bit sniffy about writing fillers (such as letters and tips) or being seen in populist magazines (Take a Break, That’s Life!). Having a fixed path for a writing career mapped out before setting off – and declining to ever take an unexpected left or right turning. Failing to have a target reader and market in mind when writing. Thinking apostrophes don’t matter.

This is not about ridding the writing world of all your mistakes and all of mine. Your mistakes, to some extent, characterise you. Your flaws are often what make you interesting. As the dating agency ad says, even if you don’t love your imperfections, someone else will – or at least won’t mind them. What it is about is tackling the ones that might be holding you back from your goals. I know I make lots of bloopers (I’m rubbish at using dashes properly, for instance), but I’m too grumpy and set in my ways to change, and I am exactly where I want to be – warts, flaws, dodgy punctuation and all.

I hope you are too (without the warts business, obviously). But if you’re not, it could be that there’s just one little thing standing in your way. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find it on the Mistakes Writers Make blog …

Alex Gazzola is a writer who specialises in allergies and food intolerances – as well as writing advice. He is the author of two ebooks, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, and the newly released 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make. His blog is at

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Romance of a Medieval Abbey

You may have noticed that I didn't write a blog post last week (or maybe you didn't). Usually I try to blog once a week but I knew I was going to be away for a few days and decided to take the opportunity to go internet-free. This also meant I couldn't read or comment on other people's blogs - so I apologise for that.

Every year we save up our Tesco tokens and put them towards a holiday. In the past we've used them to pay for the bulk of canal boat holidays (which makes you wonder how much food we buy!) but now that the step-boy has grown up and does his own thing, we decided to go for something that didn't require the use of his muscle power (have you ever tried opening a stiff lock gate on your own?)

When we looked at our tokens, we realised that several of the ones we'd accumulated were about to expire. We needed to turn them into something nice or they'd be wasted. £30 worth of tokens bought us £100 worth of cottage vouchers - and what better than a mini-break in a beautiful Dorset village?

On the Monday we exchanged our tokens for holiday vouchers and on the following Friday we were driving through the iron gates of Cerne Abbey, in the village of Cerne Abbas, where we would be spending the next three nights.

The cottage we stayed in was attached to the owners' manor house, a grade 1 listed building built on the site of the original gatehouse and incorporating some of it. In the gardens, which our cottage shared with the manor house, was the elaborate ruins of the vaulted porch of the 15th century abbot's hall which you can see in the first photograph. It was just crying out to be written about in a gothic novel

the picture above is our little cottage and the one below is the view from our bedroom window.

The weather was damp and grey but somehow that only added to the atmosphere of the place. I'm not a historical novelist but I'm sure the place will eventually find its way into one of my magazine stories.

We had many wintery walks in the beautiful Dorset countryside and a visit to a sculpture garden at Pallington Lakes. What do you make of this fellow?

Now I'm home and the synopsis for my new novel has just been okayed by my agent so it should be all systems go... but this guy keeps calling to me. Maybe I could give him a cameo role.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

That Special Business of Writing - Guest Post Simon Whaley

My guest today is Simon Whaley. I've known Simon for a few years now via social media and his articles in Writing Magazine are the ones I turn to first. Simon is also a short story writer, tutor and a terrific photographer. One thing about Simon is he's never been too busy to answer any questions I've had regarding the business of writing. Likewise, I've always been very happy to contribute to his articles when asked which is why I'm pleased he's brought out a new book on this very subject. 

I'll let Simon tell you about 'The Business of Writing' himself!

Writers are special. Well, the ones I know are. Because whenever you ask for help they will always provide it, if they can.

It’s something I learned as a budding writer in my early teens (gosh, we’re talking more than three decades now). At the time, I wrote to several famous writers (Alan Ayckbourn, Alan Bleasdale, John Sullivan, and David Crofts) asking for advice. And guess what? Every single one of them wrote back. (I still have the letters.)

Some of the advice was general. John Sullivan suggested that as I was 14, there was no need to panic just yet. I had plenty of time to experience life, because that’s what writers draw upon. Alan Bleasdale hinted that other careers were far easier and more rewarding financially. He based his argument on the assumption that it takes seven years to become a brain surgeon, and therefore it was probably quicker, and easier, to become a brain surgeon than a published writer. Looking back, he was spot on.

Alan Ayckbourn wrote three sides of A4 paper. I’m sure it was a ‘stock’ reply, but the fact that he’d sat down at some point to create a ‘stock’ reply still suggested a keenness to help other writers, even though he was pressed for time.

Perhaps, strangely, even though writers are often competing with one another, we still take pleasure from other writers’ successes, which is why, I think, we’re willing to help out. In particular, when it comes to a competitive market such as writing fiction for the women’s magazines, where we are all in competition with one another, we’ll still offer our thoughts and advice when a fellow womag writer asks for them.

In my Business of Writing column in Writing Magazine, I frequently ask other writers for help. When discussing a topic such as earning money from secondary rights like PLR or ALCS, I think it’s important to get comments from real writers who are out there, doing the job, and dealing with these aspects of the writing life on a daily basis.

Whenever ALCS is mentioned on Facebook groups, someone asks what it’s all about, and then everyone piles in explaining what the writer needs to do to register to get access to this money. This is despite the fact that those helping out may get less money in the future, because the pot of money has to be distributed between a greater number of writers. If you want to know more about ALCS, check out this post on my blog:, or buy a copy of my book ;-)

All writers are busy people. We earn our money by writing, not by helping out. Yet every writer I’ve ever approached for help when writing my column has always kindly done so. (Including Wendy, thank you!)

It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to gather some of my Business of Writing articles together into a book. When writers have helped out like this, I feel their generosity of advice should be available for a lot longer than the month of the issue the article appeared in.

So to all the writers who’ve helped me with my column since it began in 2014, thank you. (And thank you in advance to the writers I’ve yet to knock on their door asking for assistance.)

If you’re looking for advice from fellow writers about how they improve their productivity, determine which rights they sell in their stories, deal with crises of confidence (yes, we all have them), stay within the law of libel, create a business-like workspace, cope with rejection, and much, much more, then do check out my book, The Business of Writing.

And if you’re always looking for hints, tips and advice about the business of being a writer, then please visit my blog: It’s free. Because as writers, we know how important it is to help each other.

Thank you!


Sunday, 12 February 2017

20 Things I Love Best in the World

We're almost at Valentine's Day and, in honour of this time of year, I thought I'd write a post on the twenty things that I love the most. Some of them won't surprise you, but a few might!

1. My family

2. My dog, Bonnie, and my cat, Bob

3. Opening a magazine and seeing a story of mine in there

4. Dancing

5. Singing in my choir

6. People who hold doors open for me (sorry but I'm old-fashioned)

7. Any Greek Island

8. The Lake District

9. Cream cheese and banana sandwiches

10. Red wine

11. Walking by the river

12. Les Miserables

13. Australian Masterchef

14. My electric blanket in winter

15. Jeans

16. Teacakes

17. My friends

18. Books

19. Roses

20. My blog readers for continuing to support me!

And while we're talking of love, I have two valentine stories in this week's People's Friend. It's unusual for this magazine to publish more than one story from a writer, so I'm very honoured. I actually wrote and sent them last year but missed the Valentine boat, so I had to read them again to remember what they were about!

And finally, if you're in the mood for romance, you can find twelve of my published favourites in my short story collection, Room in Your Heart, which (for the price of a small coffee) can be bought here.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Psychological Thrillers and Me - Guest Post Louise Jensen

I am enormously pleased to have as my guest this week psychological suspense writer, Louise Jensen, whose novels, The Sister and The Gift, have both been number 1 bestsellers and sold for translation in ten different countries. Having just read The Sister, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I couldn't wait to ask her a few questions about her writing.

You’ve written two psychological thrillers, had you written anything before?

I have been writing non-fiction for years for health and wellbeing publications, writing mainly about mindfulness and chronic pain. Writing a novel had always been the dream but time and family meant it was something I kept putting off although looking back I think it was fear that held me back. Beginning something and knowing you need to write 90k words is incredibly daunting.

What made you decide to write a novel?

I lost a great deal of my mobility in my 30’s and with more time on my hands I decided to write a book about mindfulness, which I teach. I went along to a local writing group to find out a little about self-publishing and I was given 3 words and 10 minutes to do a ‘hot pen’ exercise. I wrote the opening to The Sister and for days afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about Grace and Charlie and decided to try and expand my snippet into a short story but I couldn’t stop writing.

Had you always had a burning desire to write in this genre?

I didn’t realise I was a crime writer until I was offered a book deal and my publisher wanted to talk about marketing. I wrote the story I wanted to tell, one I would like to read. One that made me scared, one that moved me to tears. I’m contracted for 2 more thrillers, I’ve recently released The Gift, the second and I’ve had to write knowing it needs to slot into a genre which has been more difficult. Ultimately I love feeling unnerved but I also love the emotion in commercial fiction so I try to blend the two genres.

‘The Gift’ is your latest novel. Can you describe it in one sentence?

Jenna hasn’t been the same since her heart transplant; recognising people she’s never met, discovering secrets she shouldn’t know, seeing a murder that never happened.

Are you a planner or a pantster?

Oh I wish I could plan. Particularly now writing to a deadline. I generally start with an idea and a strong female lead and see where it takes me. Throughout the writing process though I always bear in mind what the character wants and what is stopping her from getting that. This means everything I write stays connected to these points and doesn’t veer too far off track.

What would you say would be your typical writing day?

I catch up on social media when I wake and then after the school run I write until around 12. After lunch I’m not very creative in terms of getting new words down so it’s time for blogging, admin and editing. I try to finish around 4 so I can spend some time with my son.

You’re published with Bookouture. Can you tell me a little about your road to publication?

My road to publication was relatively easy, although I did receive the inevitable rejections every writer has. The Sister wasn’t finished until November and I had a contract by January. That said I’d been very careful in making sure it was absolutely ready. I paid for a professional critique which was enormously helpful and I made some last minute tweaks after receiving my report.

You’ve recently been interviewed by ITV news. Was that scary?

ITV rang me the night before as I’d just reached my second UK no.1 in a year so I didn’t really have time to get nervous, plus, if I’m honest I thought it was a joke and didn’t expect them to turn up. The interviewer was lovely and really put me at ease and it was a great experience for all the family.

Any other novels in the pipeline?

I’m due to release my third psychological thriller with Bookouture at the end of this year so I’m in the infancy stages of writing it. Not quite knowing yet what it will be about but that’s half the fun!

Thanks so much Wendy for inviting me onto your blog.

Find out more about Louise:

Buy Louise's books here:

Louise is a USA Today Bestselling Author, and lives in Northamptonshire with her husband, children, madcap spaniel and a rather naughty cat. 

Louise's first two novels, The Sister and the Gift, were both No.1 Bestsellers, and have been sold for translation to ten countries. The Sister was nominated for The Goodreads Awards Debut of 2016

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Rather Belated Writing Targets 2017

I know it's a bit late in the month but here, as promised, are my 2017 writing goals. Next week, I shall be taking them along with me in my little 'Goals' book, to see if writing chum, Tracy Fells, likes the look of  them. If she doesn't, I won't buy the teacakes.

No more procrastinating then. Let's see what I shall be up to this year. Hopefully I shall:

  • complete at least 50,000 words of my new novel by the end of August, for critique by the RNA New Writers' Scheme reader.

  • write the outline and first chapters to send to my agent before the end of February.

  • write and submit at least two short magazine stories each month.

  • attend the RNA conference in July.

Oh, and there's one more important one... to be brave!

I'm hoping that these are manageable targets but I know how life has a habit of getting in the way and I may have to change some of my expectations. If this happens, I've promised myself I won't stress about it.

Interestingly, I notice that this year's goals are practically the same as last years!

In other news, I have a story in the latest People's Friend Special. The inspiration was the lovely illustration they sent me. I couldn't resist writing it, though it made me a little sad too as it's about a woman in her sixties who is showing signs of dementia.

I hope you'll join me next week as I have a fabulous guest... best selling psychological suspense writer Louise Jensen.